by BJ | Mar 25, 2018 | Easter, Holidays
On Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem, not on the back of a powerful prancing white stallion, but on the embarrassingly humble and small back of a donkey. He came in to Jerusalem that day just as Zechariah promised almost 550 years earlier (Zechariah 9:9). That evening He returned to Bethany, probably to the home of Lazarus (John 12:1).
The next morning Jesus walked back into Jerusalem, back into the Temple area.
It is Monday of Holy Week.
Three years prior Jesus had opened His public ministry with a scene very similar to this one. (John 2:13–25) The business men of the Temple had encountered the angry Jesus. That day Jesus’ cry was “Stop making my Father’s house a place of business!” Now towards the end of His life He cleansed the Temple for the second time! This time it was recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Why drive out the business men?
Once again the temple is defiled by the “religious business” of the leaders. They had turned the court of the Gentiles into a place where foreign Jews could exchange money and purchase sacrifices. What had begun as a service of convenience for visiting Jews soon turned into a lucrative business. The dealers charged exorbitant prices and no one could compete with them or oppose them.
The exchanging of local currencies for money that could be used to pay the annual Temple tax had become quite a money making operation with the High Priest himself getting a percentage of the profit.
Animals for sacrifice were also sold in the Temple area. Animals used for sacrifices had to be free from any blemish or imperfection. And of course all of the animals sold in the Temple area were “guaranteed” to be acceptable by the priests for sacrifice. The priests of course received a percentage of the profits. Some of the lambs being sold were from the priest’s flocks, raised outside of Bethlehem.
The court of the Gentiles in the temple allowed the Gentiles (non-Jews) an opportunity to enter the temple area and learn from Israel about the true God. They were permitted to go in it but were forbidden to go any further than the outer court. The entire Temple area was considered holy, but it became increasingly more holy as one entered farther in east to west.
The presence of this “religious market” turned many Gentiles who may have been seeking, away from the witness of Israel. The court of the Gentiles was used for mercenary business, not missionary business.
And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” (Matthew 21:13)
By calling the temple My house, Jesus was affirming that He is God.
Jesus is quoting Isaiah 56:7 where God declares that one day gentiles will come and worship with joy and prayer at the temple. Actually it was part of a long sermon that Jeremiah delivered in the gate of the temple, rebuking the people for the same sins that Jesus saw and judged that day.
Jesus called the temple a den of robbers because the place where robbers hide is called a den. The religious leaders, and some of the people, were using the temple and the “Jewish religion” to cover up their sins.
Ironically the only place the gentiles were allowed to pray and worship in Jesus’ day was the outer court where buying and selling had taken over.
One has to wonder how many gentiles seeking after the true God were turned away by the noise, and the greed at the edge of the temple.
What does God want in His house?
• Prayer among His people (1 Tim. 2:1ff).
Real prayer is an evidence of our dependence on God and our faith in His Word.
• People being helped (Matt. 21:14).
The needy should feel welcome and should find the kind of help they need.
• Power in God’s house
The power of God working to bring new life and to change people into the image of His Son!
• Praise is another feature of God’s house (Matt. 21:15–16). Here Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2
Something to think about
- What about us today? If Jesus were walking around our churches what are we doing that would offend Him because it is driving away people who are seeking Him?
- What about you? As a believer your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). What activity is going on in your life that may be keeping others from getting to know Jesus?
Readings for Monday of Holy Week
- Matthew 21:12-16
- Mark 11:15-18
- Luke 19:45-48
- Isaiah 56:1-8
It is my prayer that as we focus on the events leading up to the cross that you can fully grasp the magnitude of sin and its consequences in order to fully understand the light and hope of Sunday morning!
I would love to start a conversation of what God shows you as a result of taking this journey with us this week! You can do that by writing in the comment box!
by BJ | Dec 9, 2017 | Advent
The first candle of Advent is the Prophet’s candle or the Hope candle and it always focuses our hearts on the hope of the first Advent promised by the prophets. In this post, we have chosen to cover the Bethlehem candle or the Peace candle as the second candle of Advent.
The remaining three candles of Advent may deal with the various parts of the Advent story. They may vary from church to church or even from year to year. The sequence for the remaining three Sundays might Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels. Or Love, Joy, Peace. No matter what sequence is used, the Scripture reading, prayers, lighting of the candles, the participation of worshipers in the service, all focus on unfolding the story of redemption through God’s grace in the birth of Jesus.
I have chosen to go the route of Bethlehem, Shepherds, and Angels.
The second candle, the Bethlehem candle represents peace. It symbolizes the preparations being made to receive and cradle the Christ child. Bethlehem is a story about a humble couple on an unwanted journey, at an inconvenient time, to visit a tiny insignificant town.
Augustus Caesar was ruling and he called for a census to be taken, but God was in charge, for He used Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill His Word. Even though there was no room for Mary and Joseph God had orchestrated these events. Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth so that they could register in Bethlehem and the Scriptures (Micah 5:2-5) be fulfilled.
When Mary said “May it be done to me according to Your word.” (Luke 1:38), it meant that from then on, her life would be a part of the fulfillment of divine prophecy. God had promised that the Savior would be a Jew, from the tribe of Judah and the family of David, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, the city of David. All of this occurred just as the Scriptures said, and Caesar unknowingly played an important part.
As we draw nearer to the birth of Jesus, we begin to see just how specific God was about giving His people “directions” to the main event! In Micah 5, we read a prophecy that occurred 735 years before the birth of Christ and yet it’s as specific as if it were spoken right before! When the magi arrive at Herod’s residence, they explain to the king that Jesus is supposed to be born in Bethlehem by quoting these very Scriptures. God did exactly what He said He would do!
Micah tells us several things. He tells us where the Messiah will be born, that He will come from a tribe of Judah, He will rule in Israel, Jesus is eternal and divine but will rule on earth and He will be a shepherd to His people. This One will be our peace.
Bethlehem was the smallest clan of Judah. It is a very insignificant town just outside of Jerusalem. Yet God did not choose Jerusalem for the birthplace of the Messiah. God loved the world so much that He chose, a tiny insignificant town as the location for the birth of the one who literally changed the world. This is the first of many reminders that God loves even the insignificant of the world, and in fact, demonstrates this several times in the weeks to come leading up to the Messiah’s birth.
So my question is this What about you? Don’t you want peace this Christmas? Jesus is our Peace! In the busyness of the season will you make room for Christ, or will you miss it? I can’t help but think of the Inn Keeper, would he have given up his room had he known who needed it?
Read the words to this familiar Christmas hymn.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
If you have not done so already won’t you ask the Christ child to enter in and be born in you today?
If He has already entered in, begin to prepare your hearts to celebrate His birth in the upcoming weeks. You have “the One who is our Peace” dwelling within – May you walk in His Peace this Christmas season.
by BJ | Apr 20, 2017 | Life
Recently a young woman was sharing about marital problems she and her husband were having when she stopped short and said, “Oh, never mind. You have the perfect marriage and wouldn’t even understand what I’m talking about.” I have had similar conversations over countless years which always leaves me shaking my head.
What people see is the forty year redemptive work of Christ on display in our lives, not our doing but His doing. Hopefully a covenant-keeping display of Christ’s love for His Church.
Often Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms give us a “snapshot”, at best, of the lives who post them. Lives framed in perfect portrayals of marriage, child rearing and life. Actually even those “Keeping it real” posts often give you a cleaner version of the one who posts them’s “reality”. After all, even though we claim to be keeping it real, we still don’t want the dirt in our corners, dust on the furniture and the kid screaming and pitching his dirty diaper across the room out there for the whole world to see!
At times I almost felt like I needed to apologize for having a godly marriage. However, isn’t a godly marriage the picture that we are supposed to present to all who are watching, rather than marriages that seem to be fodder to the writers of some sit com? (Ephesians 5:22-32)
In our marriages we are to be putting God‘s covenant-keeping grace on display!
The truth is, I didn’t marry my Prince Charming and he didn’t marry a princess. It took a lot of work and God’s hand, to mold and conform us into who we are and the marriage we have today. That is why I wanted to share this story with you. It is my prayer that someone reads this and sees the hope that can be theirs too.
When they met, he thought it was going to be a blind date, she thought she was going to the mall with friends.
She had joined the Air Force and for the first time in several years she felt safe and now this stranger was chasing after her.
In order to understand their story fully we need to look at a little context.
At 17 years old she had stars in her eyes, a song on her lips and the world on a string! She was in love with her high school sweetheart and they were going to the chapel and they were going to get married!
Unfortunately while on her honeymoon those stars in her eyes went dark and like a balloon with a broken string, her world with all hopes and dreams drifted away. That string around her finger was replaced with the shackles of abuse of the emotional, physical and sexual kind.
After a few short years she was battered, broken and alone, convinced she was fat and ugly and that no one would ever love her. (A mantra she heard daily from her husband) Even after they no longer lived together she lived in fear that he would break in once again and the abuse would continue.
With the realization that her “Once upon a time” was never going to have a fairy tale ending, she reached deep down to that place of strength buried deep beneath the rubble of her dreams, and cut the cords which held her captive.
No longer tied to her circumstances she took flight, literally.
She had chosen her escape route and a whole new chapter was about to be written. She had joined the Air Force and was headed to San Antonio for Basic Training.
Shortly after the plane took off the pilot came on and said “ We have reached our cruising altitude of 36,000 feet…” She immediately felt her body relax as a loud sigh escaped from her lips.
For the first time in several years she felt safe.
A new chapter was being written, one that offered an opportunity to rise up out of the pile of broken dreams, clear her head, reclaim her confidence and gain new strength!
She came to basic training, broken and battered.
For the next six weeks she didn’t have to worry about what she would eat, what she would wear or where she would live. All she had to do was follow orders and allow this time of training to give her a firm foundation on which to build her future on.
As the weeks marched on she began to feel her strength returning. Not just the physical strength from the PT but emotional strength as well. She marched with her head held a little higher than when she arrived and on graduation day she went to her next assignment with a cautious optimism.
As she boarded the plane for the next leg of her journey she wondered if her story was going to have a happy ending after all.
For the next six weeks she would be in school studying to be a med tech in order to prepare for her permanent duty assignment as an aeromedical evacuation technician. Having escaped from an abusive relationship she was not interested in jumping into another. So, she was focused on becoming the best med tech she could be and she studied hard, perhaps a little too hard according to her roommate.
It was Saturday and her roommate convinced her to go to a mall with her and a friend. At the appointed time her ride came and she hopped into the backseat. That’s when she realized that there were 3 people in the car, not 2! In the back was a guy who looked at her with anticipation. He thought it was a blind date, she thought she was going with friends to the mall.
Feeling the sting of betrayal she sat silently in the back seat hugging the door, the unsuspecting “date” drank in the perfume of rejection.
But, not one to take rejection sitting down, the next day he set a trap for the allusive young lady. Let’s suffice it to say that his trap was unconventional, to say the least. For six hours they were confined in the same place, she was extremely unhappy and unable to leave. As the hours wore on she eventually became still. When she did he moved in with honey dripping off of his lips, and she was drawn in by his sweetness.
His sweet words and attentiveness broke down the walls built to protect the wounded and broken one, and he walked right into her heart before she even knew he was there. Could it be possible that someone would love her? Could he be the Prince Charming she had always hoped for? The song of the past played in the background of her newfound love, but she ignored it in hopes that it would fade away.
He began life in a very small town tucked away in the panhandle of Oklahoma as the first child of an extremely young couple. Grandparents, family members as well as members of the community helped to raise him because of the youth of his parents. He was the apple of his grandfather’s eye and the mascot of the senior class.
However, while in elementary school his life circumstances changed and he moved away from that small town and his grandfather, aunt and uncle whom he adored. It was to be the first of many moves.
As the years went by school pictures began to portray something in the young boy’s eyes. His eyes, once twinkling and bright, depicted a fading brightness turned into sadness and eventually the darkness of anger. By the time he graduated high school he had moved fifteen times, was an alcoholic and a womanizer.
Just out of high school the young man joined the military as security police and eventually became a dog handler. His womanizing continued until his blind date became “the one”, unfortunately alcohol was the “other woman” for a number of years.
Their “Happily Ever After”
It looked as though she had finally found her Prince Charming!
As the days turned into weeks, then months, and overlooking a few potholes in the road they were on, they both agreed it was time to get married. So, without all the pomp and circumstance, on April 1, 1977 they tied the knot in the presence of a few friends, long gone.
At first the road was smooth except for those potholes, once overlooked, but they were considered a minor detour as they stepped around them. After not so many months those potholes seemed to grow, until one day they took on the appearance of huge bottomless chasms on which they found themselves on opposite sides.
Unable to communicate they took up rock throwing to get the attention of the other. At first the rocks stung a little and left small marks. But after a while the barrage of rock throwing began to take its toll and the baggage, which was thought to be tucked ever so neatly in the past, was split wide open like Pandora’s box.
Prince Charming was no longer charming. The damsel was more distressed than ever!
Unleashed were the fears, insecurities, brokenness and coping mechanisms of past lives now reborn. Alcohol, anger, inferiority, fears and lies believed, fueled the fires of destruction.
From the midst of the flames a cry was heard. It was the cry of one longed for, yet born amidst the destructive fires, a girl child, one loved nonetheless. She melted hard hearts and served as the glue that held the two together as the fires seemed to subside.
Their tours of duty ended, bringing to an end this leg of the journey.
With a new leg about to begin, came hope renewed. Excitement of new beginnings began to build and the future began to look brighter as they moved across country with a helping hand of promise on the other side. They were hoping for a do over.
However, not many months into the help they had been offered, life became strained. The environment quickly became toxic and once again they found themselves walking on eggshells, not with each other but with those who had offered help. It became clear it was time to leave.
The little family moved out on their own and for a short time they were able to breathe.
Soon the stresses of being alone in a big city, waiting on the new job to begin along with their past history began to take a toll.
Unfortunately, although the flames of destruction in their history had died, their pain was still smoldering beneath the surface. They were desperately trying to keep their pasts from erupting once again into flames of fury.
He entered the police academy and threw himself full force into becoming the best officer he could be. At home he spent most of his time working out, studying, practicing techniques, losing himself in the pursuit of perfection. She became more and more anxious, trying not to push buttons and constantly second-guessing herself until she felt as though she had fallen into a deep hole.
It was then that she decided to take the girl child and go for an extended visit with her family. He didn’t argue, in some ways he was relieved that now he could fully concentrate without all the distractions. Yes, he would miss the girl child, but he would spend more time with her once he was out of the academy
It would also be a good time to clear his head and begin to think about what the future might hold because the present wasn’t looking too promising.
To be continued
by BJ | Apr 8, 2016 | Bible Studies, Life
Remember playing hide and seek as a kid? The games could go on for hours. You didn’t want to be found, at least right away, but you wanted them looking for you. It was “Look for me! Look for me! But, don’t find me too quickly.”
Sometimes people think God is like that. They see Him as the cosmic hide and seek master, and Jeremiah 29:13 as His mantra “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
If we try really really hard, maybe we will find Him and connect with Him in some way. But, that is not the way the God behaves!
But, in the context of Jeremiah 29:13 (the immediate context starts back in verse 10 and goes through 14) God is saying that at the end of the 70 years of captivity in Babylon you will seek after Me and I will reveal myself to you. In other words, I will turn your hearts to seek Me and I will make certain you find Me.
God is the God who refuses to hide Himself
God wants you to know Him. From the beginning of human history He has been revealing Himself. Before Adam and Eve sinned God walked with them in the garden (Genesis 3:8-11). Now, you would expect this, they were after all His creation. But, what happens next in the story is what makes me stop and wonder. God refused to hide Himself from them AFTER they sinned. Adam and Eve only had one rule, one law to obey in the garden and they broke it. But, even after they sinned God sought them out. And He has been revealing Himself ever since.
With Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the name was God Almighty. He revealed Himself as the almighty God, the protector and sustainer (Exodus 6:2-3). He was a shield to Abraham (Genesis 15:1). He was the promise keeper and interpreter of dreams to Joseph. He was the one present with Joseph, Joshua, and Samuel, and David.
God is always revealing Himself to us
He revealed Himself in a burning bush to Moses and told him to challenge Pharaoh. In Exodus 6 we catch just glance of the intensity with which God reveals Himself.
God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel,
‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6-7)
God said He revealed Himself as God Almighty to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but to Moses and the nation of Israel He is going to reveal Himself by His personal name, Yahweh or Yhwh, the word we translate as LORD.
How is He going to reveal Himself? He will deliver them from their bondage (Exodus 6:6-7). Their freedom is how they will know that He is God. God’s deliverance becomes the revelation to the people of Israel. In the story of the Exodus God declares at least 13 more times in the next six chapters that the miracles or plagues He brings on Egypt are for one reason only – so that Egypt, Israel, the rest of the world would know that the LORD alone is God.
This is important. The plagues were not because God needed to convince Pharaoh to let Israel go. God did not need Pharaoh’s permission. God is capable of accomplishing His will without the okay of any king. God’s purpose was to reveal Himself.
God’s actions revealed His existence and His character! Who God is was seen in what God did!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that as Christians we should discover who we were created to be. We will never understand who we are aside from understanding Who created us. And, the good news is that God is always in the business of revealing Himself. He refuses to be hidden.
What steps can you take to understand the God who refuses to be hidden?
This sounds terribly simple, but the Bible is the Word of God. It is His revelation of Himself to us. By reading and studying the Scriptures you will see the revelation of God Himself to you.
Mark references to God in your Bible.
As you are reading draw a triangle around each reference to God and shade it yellow. The symbol and color are just a suggestion, but marking God as you read the Bible is a personal charge from me to you. Marking as you read slows you down and makes you pay close attention to the text. The results are amazing. You will see things you have never noticed before and ponder things you had only breezed by.
In a journal keep a list of what you are learning about God from your study or reading. There is no need to list every little detail, just list some of the things you see. God will guide you as write.
In your journal keep a very specific list of the things you see God in your life and the world around you. Over and over in Scripture the actions of God prove the character of God. Watch for His actions in your life. Note, what God did, when and where He did it. The journal will become a testimony for you, your children, and your grandchildren to the faithfulness of God.
Every few months review your notes. Take time to remember an enjoy what God has done in your life.
God is the God who refuses to be hidden. Watch for His hand at work in your life. He is working everywhere, but sometimes our eyes are too blind to see, our ears too dull hear Him. But taking time and being intentional you will be amazed at the revelation going on all around you.
by BJ | Apr 24, 2012 | Bible Studies
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:7–8, 16
God is love. If we are believers and we are “in” God then our lives should be characterized by the same love that characterizes Him. This love we are talking about is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling; rather it is a choice that has the highest good of the object loved in mind. This means in relation to others, encouraging them and doing things they will like. Sometimes it means having to say hard things, or things that are difficult to hear. (more…)